MOSCOW — Thousands of people protested in the streets Thursday steps away from the Kremlin to express anger over the jailing of an opponent to President Vladimir Putin on what they alleged are false charges to keep him quiet.
Alexei Navalny, a Moscow mayoral candidate who blew the whistle on high-level corruption and mocked the Kremlin, was sentenced to five years in a penal colony on embezzlement charges.
“We were supposed to go to a museum, but the verdict changed that, and now we’re here,” said Anna Abdelkhabi, a mother of three who turned up at the protest with her children. “Of course, it was obvious that [Navalny would be found guilty], but on the other hand, there was this tiny, tiny bit of hope.”
“I expected the verdict,” said Stas Starevsky, an information technology specialist, “but what no one wanted to believe happened.”
The sentence is the latest in a crackdown on dissent that followed Putin’s re-election to a third presidential term in March 2012. The Kremlin has arrested opposition activists and pushed for passage of laws that sharply increased fines for Russians who take part in protests not permitted by the government.